by G. L. Griffith
Tommy turned to his oldest refuge, his tools: the hammer, the plane, the miter, the saw, the level, and the plumb line. He needed a project, an object, a simple reality that was always within his control and was nothing more than what it was. They had hauled more belongings in the U Haul than they could possibly store. He would build a storage shed; add a little space, nothing fancy. The wooden steps leading up to his front door were rickety. He would fix that too. But materials were a problem. Driving to Flagstaff was out of the question. Money was low.
He decided to ask around a little. The vacant trailers around them were beginning to fill. The compound was still pretty much empty. The real influx would begin during the next few weeks before the school year actually began. He decided to visit his next-door-neighbors, Moses of the bulrushes, as he called him, the guy with the staff, the guru dude with the beard, that guy. He was hard to miss, with all those kids coming and going all day long, the door constantly slamming and footfalls hitting the ground. Tommy could hear Moses' voice, too. He had the kind of voice that easily carried, like one of those guys at an airport talking loud business in a cheap suit. He was always teaching and showing those kids things, how to fly a kite; at night it was all about star constellations and campfires, or he would load them all up into his old blue Suburban and they'd drive off to somewhere. He was a real scoutmaster type.
There was a woman who frequently emerged from the residence and drove away. He only caught a glimpse of her from time to time. She was tall with long auburn hair that she wore tied back and down between her shoulder blades. She was an early riser. He would hear her starting her car and leaving shortly after sunrise each morning and arriving back late in the afternoon. She obviously worked somewhere.
This might be a good place to start and get a little information, make a social contact. Maybe someone might know where he could get some building materials. He wouldn't need much, since he wasn't going to pour a foundation. He would mount the floor on a stem wall, so some blocks would be nice. In searching through his tools, he discovered that he had forgotten a basic staple of building, his tape measure. Why not start there? He could ask them without feeling like the bonehead that he knew he was for forgetting it. There certainly was no place around to buy one, and until he could get his building keys and start work, he could think of no place else to find something to do than right here at home on Lot 28. His neighbors in Lot 27 were only a few steps away.
One Saturday morning, he ventured over and knocked on the door. The Suburban was parked in the drive. The place seemed quiet and empty. He knocked again and continued to wait. It was still early. He was about to give up when he heard the lock slowly disengage on the inside. This was the first time he had a chance to see her up close. This morning she was wearing her hair in a classic fifty's style, parted on the side. Her complexion was creamy-colored and dotted with freckles. She had a half-inflated pink balloon in one hand and was blowing on it. Behind her, he saw someone crawl by on his hands and knees. It was Moses. Tommy tried to act nonchalant. "Good morning," he said. She turned her head in the direction of the crawler and said, "It's all right. It's only our neighbor." She started laughing, but quickly regained her composure, clamping a hand over her mouth. It was hard to miss the gritty, pasty smell of marijuana that wafted out the door toward him. She spoke in short, broken sentences.
"You must be thinking. He's crawling around like that because. They're not our children. He thought that you were." She started laughing again.
She wiped her eyes with her long, gauzy-looking sleeve. She was wearing something semi-low cut that exposed her less than prominent front, but a front that was warm nonetheless and had the promise of sunny weather, as far as he was concerned, because any distraction at all was better than this annoying restlessness that had been plaguing him day in and day out. She was kind of cute in a pumpkin-sort-of-way. Her neck rose up like a fragile stem from her square shoulders. She had all kinds of stretchy, beady bracelets on both wrists. She was everywhere-thin, except for her nose, which looked doughy and swollen in a cool sort of way and made her eyes appear smaller.
All of that pot had loosened her up, evidently. She spoke to him as though she had known him forever. He was suddenly her oldest friend, her confidant. She stepped outside into the morning sun and unloaded. Her name was Jean and Moses' was Ned. She looked over her shoulder in a direction back inside the trailer, toward where Ned evidently was, and let out another laugh, as though he were there, just out of sight, still on his hands and knees like some kind of loveable dog or something, listening, tongue out, panting.
She was a nurse at the Indian Clinic. He didn't tell her anything about Jeno and he was glad that she didn't say anything either. She must have known Jeno. Christ, she worked at the clinic too. This place was so small, everybody knew everybody. He was glad that she hadn't said anything because he was getting off on her for a minute or two and enjoying an old-fashioned phony flirt. He let her do the talking.
Ned was an art teacher at the high school. They were living together strictly as roommates. She made that very clear. He thought, right on. She was having a difficult time adjusting to the bright sunlight and made a visor over her green eyes with her left hand as she spoke. No, she and Ned were not lovers. They sometimes slept nude together in the same bed but that is as far as anything ever went. And the children weren't theirs either. No shit, he figured as much.
The school had made arrangements with certain couples to provide temporary housing for those students who lived in remote regions.
"How's that," she laughed. "We live out here fifty miles from the nearest paved road, our cell phones don't work, we have no TV or cable, and they actually have a remote classification for some children who have to travel long distances to school."
"The reason I stopped by was to borrow a tape measure." He hated to sound so matter-of-fact. He didn't want to derail this conversation. He didn't know exactly where it was going, but he was ready for the ride.
"A tape measure?" She seemed confused for a moment and then clamped one hand over her mouth again, as if she'd just heard something astounding, and looked down at his crotch. She disappeared for a moment behind the door and when she came back Ned was with her. He wore only an old pair of cut offs and no shirt. He was as skinny as a rail and his beard hung down between his two dark nipples.
"I don't have one," Ned said in his big, boomy, articulate-sage-professor-way. "But I know where you can probably in all likelihood get one, if you've got the nerve. Try Robert Bedonie. He's the local radical. He runs the wood shop at the high school. You can find him up there almost any week day."
"Yes, he's a card carrying AIM member and he hasn't much use for white people, but you're welcome to try. He's probably your only hope."
"Why don't you come in and join us," Jean said. "Ned just baked some homemade sesame muffins. We're going to have some with chocolate ice cream and melted marshmallows. Come on in." He noticed for the first time that there was a small gap between her two front teeth.
Ned flashed him a big smile. "Come on in," he patted Tommy on the shoulder and opened the door wide for him.
He didn't get the tape measure, but he did get something else that he hadn't had for a long while.
Later on, he drifted toward his trailer, noticing for the first time the stillness of the air and the clarity of the sky. It still wasn't noon. He didn't know what to think about time out here, stuck in the middle of nowhere.
"There is no time," he sighed.
This time the hammock rocked and swayed him not toward sleep, but something else closely akin. He closed his eyes and watched the red patterns moving and blending together.
Copyright©2003 G. L. Griffith